Steve Beck made a promise to his young team when he took over three years ago as the volleyball coach at Countryside High School.
"I told them, work hard, listen, and in three years, we'll be champions," said Beck after the Cougers wiped out Manatee in two games Wednesday, 15-5, 15-8, to seize the Class 6A, District 8 crown.
"Tonight, I didn't even have to coach."
Countryside won its 12th consecutive match and earned the right to host a first-round regional game Tuesday night.
The Cougars (16-8) blitzed Northeast 15-5, 15-2 to forge their way into the final against host Manatee (21-10), which defeated Sarasota in three, 7-15, 15-13, 15-7.
Countryside cruised through the championship match, nailing it down for keeps after a big spike by Megan Thompson regained serve for the visitors. Colleen Gorlewski, who had a team-high eight kills tapped one gently over the net for the winning point.
Gorlewski, who came back only five games ago after having recovering from a broken foot, was a driving force for the Cougars, as was Ruth Lambert, who had 14 service points. Janeen Sobush had five kills, Thompson four and Katie Ellis three.
Beck is optimistic going into the regional.
"We are playing like a unit," he said. "I told them coming into tonight, think about passing, nothing hits the floor, serves in, and we'll get it. I can't say enough about our six seniors who have been with me from the start.
In the semifinal matches, Lambert and Missy Allen were 22-for-22 on service points with seven aces between them as Countryside routed Northeast. Manatee had a rougher time against Sarasota but rallied from a 13-7 defict in a game two to earn its berth to the final.
5A-7: St. Petersburg,
Largo move into semis
PINELLAS PARK _ Mary Robins and Rachel Maddux helped rally St. Petersburg to an 11-15, 15-8, 15-13 victory in a match Wednesday night.
The Green Devils (6-11) play host and top-seeded Pinellas Park at 6 tonight. In the nightcap, Largo plays Gibbs, which defeated Dixie Hollins 15-2, 15-12.
"Anything can happen," said St. Petersburg coach Karen Kreger, whose team has won three in a row. "This is a well-deserved win."
St. Petersburg came back after losing the first game and easily won the second game behind the strong serving and setting of Beth Stauffer. In the final game, the Green Devils scored the last two points behind Robins' serving.
"We were happy with tonight's performance," Kreger said. "The girls have been working hard to get to this point."
_ WAYNE McKNIGHT
5A-7: East Lake, Tarpon,
Dunedin move on
EAST LAKE _ East Lake recorded the first district tournament victory in school history with a 15-10, 15-7 win over Springstead in the tournament at East Lake. In the other first-round games, Tarpon Springs beat Ridgewood 16-14, 15-5 and Dunedin downed Gulf 15-11, 15-10.
"We have the ability to win the tournament," East Lake coach Kathy Phebus said. "We just have to go out and prove it on the court."
The Eagles were led by the serving of Susan Rawlings, who had eight service aces. Jenni Dunbar followed with four.
"We knew we were going to win the match," Rawlings said. "I think we have more confidence now and have everybody healthy."
East Lake's win set up a match with Tarpon Springs at 6 p.m. today. The Spongers had to rally in order to get by Ridgewood. Afterward, Tarpon Springs coach Stefanie Decker left the team to Shannon Cooper, who held a meeting at the south corner of the gym.
"We came out and played poorly," Decker said. "I told them if we look past East Lake in our next match, we are out."
Cooper led the Spongers with 12 kills. Melissa Terry had eight digs. Judie Bourne had seven.
In the other semifinal, Dunedin will play Clearwater at 7 tonight.
_ BOB PUTNAM
4A-8: CCC, Lakewood
to meet in final
CLEARWATER _ State volleyball powers Clearwater Central Catholic and Lakewood ensured a much-anticipated matchup for the Class 4A, District 8 championship at 7 Friday night.
Host CCC, ranked ninth in the Class 4A state poll, rolled past River Ridge 15-10, 15-4 in the opening match. Lakewood beat Osceola 15-3, 15-11 in the other match.
After falling behind 10-6, the Marauders ran off nine consecutive points to take the opening game.
The Marauders continued to attack in game two behind senior Kim Zschau.
Zschau, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker who led CCC with two blocks and seven kills, powered the Marauders to a 10-4 lead. One block later, they ran off five consecutive service points for the 15-4 victory.
"I'm very excited to be in the championship," Zschau said. "If we stick to teamwork and pass, we have a good shot."
The Spartans, who themselves are ranked seventh in the state poll, were led by senior captains Lindsay Penrose and Lorrin Rowe.
Rowe, who had seven kills (four in game one), helped Lakewood dominate the first game. "We have huge expectations," Rowe said. "I was struggling early in the year, but I feel I'm back now."
Penrose, a 6-1 middle blocker who had seven kills also, helped fight off the Warriors in the second game. With the score tied at 11, Penrose scored a kill, and Lakewood closed out the match.
_ CHARLES HARRIS